A big thank you to Cornelia J. Glynn for sharing her wonderful story inspired by Christmas and childhood memories…
I was not even four years old when my family and I had to flee from Russian occupied East Germany at a nano second’s notice with only the clothes we were wearing. It was the 23rd of December and I had so been looking forward to getting my annual orange. The choice of food available was very limited and I truly believed that we got only one orange a year.
So there we were, my father and I in his friend’s car, driving to West Berlin, where we caught a plane to Frankfurt and then hopped on a train to a mining town in North Rhein Westfalia where I was to meet my Grandfather (my father’s side) for the very first time. It had been a very traumatic experience to leave behind my mother, who made her way to Frankfurt on her own and my sister, who had been visiting my Grandmother in another town so couldn’t join us until a few months later. However, the mere thought of meeting my Grandpa kept my hunger at bay (we had no money to buy a sandwich although a kind lady on the train later fed us) and made me forget about the orange I so cherished at Christmas time. I liked its colour and aroma as well as its texture and taste and would not eat it for days, gently stroking it’s dimpled skin and smelling it in total amazement.
But this story isn’t about oranges, or my grandfather even, and yes, I loved him instantly, as I did my Grandma, which was a good thing because I wouldn’t see my parents again for another year until we received news that my father had finally been granted asylum in the West, and had found work in Frankfurt, where we would live for five or six years.
Living with my grandparents were also my Aunt Mia and her (rather ghastly) husband, whose name I don’t care to utter even and his son, my cousin, who was a few years my senior.
Auntie Mia was a wonderful woman and our bond was immediate. Since I had nothing to wear, she made me dresses out of old curtains, the idea of which horrified me when she mentioned it to my Dad.
Still, she was a great seamstress and as it happened, they were my favourite dresses and I felt good in them.
But this story isn’t about my favourite dresses either, or about Aunt or my bad tempered uncle, or my cousin. Although, it kind of is about her because one day, as a special treat she brought home a big bunch of bananas.
Until then, I had noticed that there was lot more produce in the shops and I was astonished to learn that I could have more than one orange not only at Christmas, but also at other times of the year. As for bananas, they were alien to me. I had never heard of them, or seen them so when Auntie Mia broke one off the bunch and handed it to me with a warm smile on her face, I eyed it suspiciously, before holding it in my hands and then to my nose to check what it smelt like. I wondered if it was a weird type of orange but neither its shape nor its smell resembled that of an orange and I was baffled.
“What is it?” I asked her.
“It’s a banana, Cornelia. It comes by ship from a hot country far, far away and is delicious” she replied.
I turned it around a few times and shifted it from one hand to another, intrigued by its strange shape and colour. “Well, what is a banana and what do you do with it?” was my next question.
My aunt let out a little laugh. “It’s a fruit and you eat it.”
“You eat it?”
“Yes, you eat it.”
Why anyone would want to eat such an extraordinary looking thing, was beyond me. Nevertheless, I bit into the bit where it had been separated from the bunch. It was hard and sharp and scraped the roof of my mouth and I was not impressed by its taste.
Now my aunt laughed out aloud. “No, no, darling. The banana is inside.”
“Ohhh. But how do you get to it?”
“You peel it.” she explained whereupon I inspected the banana more closely before having to ask “How do I do that?” She gently took it from my hand, removed half of the skin and made the banana look like it was wearing a skirt.
Unconvinced, I took a big bite and chewed it a little, before spitting it out, disgusted and declaring “I don’t like these yellow cucumbers”.
Funny to think that these yellow cucumbers would become a staple part of my diet in later years, when I would eat several a day, but then, aged four, I could not have possibly imagined that.
© Cornelia J. Glynn